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(Mae Hong Son, Thailand) October 21, 2013 — After much hard work and anticipation, the first course of the Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM) program in Mae Hong Son started at Camp 1 on 20 September 2013. 

Jesuit Refugee Service has been assisting refugees in Mae Hong Son since 1993, focusing on basic education and vocational training service delivery, especially since partnering with the Karenni Education Department (KnED) in 1997.  With increasing needs for tertiary education being identified in Mae Hong Son in recent years, the JC:HEM initiative was proposed and assessed as a suitable way forward. 

JC:HEM is an initiative of the Society of Jesus that brings Jesuit higher education to those at the margins of our society. Partnering with Jesuit Refugee Service, JC:HEM is powered by Jesuit colleges and universities and serves people affected by war, displacement and poverty. The partnership offers higher education to refugees in the most challenging circumstances. JC:HEM links new technologies and virtual learning environments with the Jesuit concept of Ignatian pedagogy to bring experience, reflection, and action to life in the classroom.

"The JC:HEM initiative will build on approximately 20 years of work in providing education to refugees in Mae Hong Son. It will offer further education for adults, and also aims to strengthen the capacity of existing education staff such as teachers," said Ms. Pauline Aaron, JRS Thailand Country Director.  

While JRS and KnED presently offer English as a Foreign Language classes and adult literacy courses in the camp through the Vocational Training Non-Formal Education (VTNFE) program; the English as a Foreign Language — Community Service Learning Track (EFL-CSLT) will be delivered as part of the JC-HEM initiative to enable students to develop English skills for academic purposes. 

This course will serve as preparation for higher education, to build the capacity of refugees for serving the community in the camp, or enabling students to seek further employment opportunities once a durable solution has been found (either in a third country or if they choose to return to Myanmar). 

The CSLT program for MHS refugees will be the first engagement of JC:HEM in Southeast Asia. The program will draw on JC:HEM's experience in other parts of the world (including projects in Kenya and Malawi, which last month delivered the first university refugee graduates funded by JRS —  a combined total of 49) to develop the program in Mae Hong Son on the border of Thailand and Myanmar and potentially in other locations across the region. 

In preparation for commencement of the first course, there has been a lot of activity in recent weeks — both inside and outside of the classroom.  

"Working closely with our partners in the Karenni Education Department (KnED), the CSLT course was advertised in the camp through posters and loudspeaker announcements. We had 43 eager students sit the placement test on the 14th of September, and we're looking forward to starting the course soon," said Ms. Ashleigh Callow, EFL-CSLT facilitator, JRS Thailand.

There are 21 students enrolled in the EFL-CSLT course which will run until February 2014. "Students unable to attend the advanced EFL-CSLT course will embark on an intermediate course to assist in preparing the students for future CSLTs," added Ms Callow.

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